Great platoons:  1950-1965

In our first installment, we picked up the trail of Great Platoons at its beginnings in the 1910s, and followed it through to mid-century. Now we rejoin these devastating duos (and occasionally trios and more!) in the 1950s.

We encounter a far greater frequency of Great Platoons in the 1950s and ’60s than we’d seen in earlier decades, a clear indicator of how much more prevalent platooning became. Through this period, not every team had a platoon in place, but most did, and platooning at multiple positions was not uncommon.

As a reminder, here are the criteria for inclusion:

- The platoon must have been entirely or significantly structured upon the left-right-batting basis.

- Both platoon partners must have hit well, not just one.

- We’re concerning ourselves only with offensive production, not defense or baserunning.

Something to remember as we proceed is this: Most pitchers are righthanded, usually by around two-thirds to one-third. So the signature aspect of the most strict left-right platoon partnership is that the lefthanded batter will get around twice as many plate appearances as the righthanded batter, give or take for particular circumstances.

1950 Pittsburgh Pirates: First base

Johnny Hopp was a fleet-footed line-drive-hitting first baseman-outfielder who was deployed as a platoon player for most of his career. He did some of his best hitting late in that career, never better than here at the age of 33, splendidly paired by Pirates manager Billy Meyer with utility man Jack Phillips.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Johnny Hopp      L   106  318   51  108   24    5    8   47   43   17 .340 .420 .522   143
Jack Phillips    R    69  208   25   61    7    6    5   34   20   17 .293 .355 .457   109
Total                     526   76  169   31   11   13   81   63   34 .321 .397 .496   132

1951 Pittsburgh Pirates: Catcher

The veteran Clyde McCullough accumulated most ot fhe playing time over the full season, but once Joe Garagiola was acquired via trade in mid-June, it’s apparent that Meyer alternated them in a straightforward left-right platoon. Each delivered very fine offense for a catcher.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Joe Garagiola    L    72  212   24   54    8    2    9   35   32   20 .255 .358 .439   110
Clyde McCullough R    92  259   26   77    9    2    8   39   27   31 .297 .366 .440   113
Total                     471   50  131   17    4   17   74   59   51 .278 .362 .439   112

1952 Philadelphia Athletics: Right field

Few hitters in history displayed the strike zone mastery of Czech native Elmer Valo, but for whatever reason—whether he had unusual difficulty with left-handed pitching he was just not very durable—throughout his long career Valo was rarely deployed as a full-time regular. Here A’s manager Jimmy Dykes matched him with the power-hitting Allie Clark, who in contrast to Valo was an extreme free-swinger.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Elmer Valo       L   129  388   69  109   26    4    5   47  101   16 .281 .432 .407   129
Allie Clark      R    71  186   23   51   12    0    7   29   10   19 .274 .315 .452   106
Total                     574   92  160   38    4   12   76  111   35 .279 .406 .422   123

1952-53-54 Philadelphia Phillies: Catcher

Neither Smoky Burgess nor Stan Lopata was much noted for defensive prowess, but they were two of the best-hitting catchers of their era. Deployed by three Phillies’managers (first Eddie Sawyer, then Steve O’Neill, then Terry Moore) in a straightforward left-right platoon, they delivered extraordinarily potent offense. Their 1954 production was among the best any team has ever received from its catching corps.

1952:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Smoky Burgess    L   110  371   49  110   27    2    6   56   49   21 .296 .380 .429   125
Stan Lopata      R    57  179   25   49    9    1    4   27   36   33 .274 .395 .402   123
Total                     550   74  159   36    3   10   83   85   54 .289 .385 .420   124

1953:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Smoky Burgess    L   102  312   31   91   17    5    4   36   37   17 .292 .370 .417   106
Stan Lopata      R    81  234   34   56   12    3    8   31   28   39 .239 .321 .419    92
Total                     546   65  147   29    8   12   67   65   56 .269 .351 .418   100

1954:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Smoky Burgess    L   108  345   41  127   27    5    4   46   42   11 .368 .432 .510   146
Stan Lopata      R    86  259   42   75   14    5   14   42   33   37 .290 .369 .544   135
Total                     604   83  202   41   10   18   88   75   48 .334 .407 .525   141

1953 St. Louis Browns: Left field

Under manager Marty Marion, in their final season in St. Louis the Browns featured regular left-right platoons at three positions: catcher (Clint Courtney-Les Moss), first base (Dick Kryhoski-Roy Sievers) and left field (Dick Kokos-Don Lenhardt). The left field tandem was the most productive.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Dick Kokos       L   107  299   41   72   12    0   13   38   56   53 .241 .361 .411   106
Don Lenhardt     R    97  303   37   96   15    0   10   35   41   41 .317 .400 .465   131
Total                     602   78  168   27    0   23   73   97   94 .279 .381 .439   120

1953 New York Yankees: Left field

Casey Stengel’s platoon arrangements with the Yankees were typically more elaborate than a simple left-right single-position setup, but this one was pretty much that, and was extraordinarily potent. The burly, sweet-swinging Gene Woodling wasn’t shy about chafing at his platoon status, but over his long career was almost always deployed that way, and was one of the best platoon hitters of all time. Bill Renna was a former college player (Santa Clara, my alma mater!) finally getting a chance in the majors at the age of 28, and making the most of it by mashing lefties.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Gene Woodling    L   125  395   64  121   26    4   10   58   82   29 .306 .429 .468   145
Bill Renna       R    61  121   19   38    6    3    2   13   13   31 .314 .385 .463   131
Total                     516   83  159   32    7   12   71   95   60 .308 .420 .467   142

1954-55 New York Yankees: First base

Oddly, through nearly all of the first five years of Stengel’s tenure with the Yankees, his GM George Weiss didn’t provide him with a right-handed-hitting first baseman. Jack Phillips was sold to Pittsburgh in August of 1949, and until rookie Gus Triandos was promoted from the minors in August of 1953, though Stengel constantly juggled his first basemen, all (Dick Kryhoski, Tommy Henrich, Johnny Mize, Joe Collins, Johnny Hopp, Irv Noren and Don Bollweg) swung left-handed bats.

Clearly this atypical arrangement didn’t much inhibit Stengel, who ardently platooned on plenty of other criteria (offense-defense, ballpark, pitcher style, and apparently just flat-out hunch), nor could one argue with the five-straight-World-Series-title results. Still, it was strange, given that the Yankees, with the short right field porch in their home ballpark and their abundant left-handed power, surely drew more than their share of southpaw opposing pitchers.

Moreover, the choice of Triandos as the 1953 mid-season call-up was curious: He was primarily a catcher, not a first baseman, and he was playing at the Double-A level, while the Yankees’ organization included not one but two right-handed-hitting first basemen in Triple-A. Both had more experience than Triandos, and were both tearing it up in their second straight Triple-A seasons: Vic Power and Bill Skowron.

Finally, for 1954 Weiss traded Power, farmed out Triandos and promoted Skowron. With a first-rate right-handed-swinging first baseman on hand at last, Stengel’s first base platoon concoctions in both 1954 and ’55 were exceptionally rich. The line produced by the veteran Eddie Robinson in 1955 has always been one of my favorites: Did he perfect the short-porch uppercut that year, or what?

1954:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Joe Collins      L   130  343   67   93   20    2   12   46   51   37 .271 .365 .446   125
Bill Skowron     R    87  215   37   73   12    9    7   41   19   18 .340 .392 .577   167
Total                     558  104  166   32   11   19   87   70   55 .297 .376 .496   144

1955:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Joe Collins      L    77  203   29   47    7    1    9   33   32   23 .234 .339 .414   104
Bill Skowron     R   108  288   46   92   17    3   12   61   21   32 .319 .369 .524   141
Eddie Robinson   L    88  173   25   36    1    0   16   42   36   26 .208 .358 .491   129
Total                     664  100  175   25    4   37  136   89   81 .264 .365 .482   128

1954 Pittsburgh Pirates: Catcher

On an otherwise forgettable cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh ball club, Fred Haney platooned the journeyman Toby Atwell and the rookie Jack Shepard and produced nice results. A 101 OPS+ is much better than average from the catching spot.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Toby Atwell      L    96  287   36   83    8    4    3   26   43   21 .289 .384 .376   101
Jack Shepard     R    82  227   24   69    8    2    3   22   26   33 .304 .370 .396   101
Total                     514   60  152   16    6    6   48   69   54 .296 .378 .385   101

1954 New York Giants: Left field

Obviously this wasn’t a straightforward left-right platoon: The gimpy-legged veteran Monte Irvin was largely the regular, and Dusty Rhodes was largely his backup (as well as being, famously, a frequent pinch-hitter). But it seems clear that Giants manager Leo Durocher coincided Irvin’s days off with facing the toughest right-handed opposing starters.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Monte Irvin      R   135  432   62  113   13    3   19   64   70   23 .262 .363 .438   108
Dusty Rhodes     L    82  164   31   56    7    3   15   50   18   25 .341 .410 .695   182
Total                     596   93  169   20    6   34  114   88   48 .284 .377 .508   136

1955 Kansas City Athletics: Left field

Similar to the Giants’ Irvin-Rhodes partnership, this wasn’t a pure left-right arrangement, but exhibited some of that flavor. And, similar to the Irvin-Rhodes situation, this Gus Zernial-Elmer Valo tandem under manager Lou Boudreau delivered excellent production, while displaying an extraordinary contrast of hitting styles.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Gus Zernial      R   120  413   62  105    9    3   30   84   30   90 .254 .304 .508   115
Elmer Valo       L   112  283   50  103   17    4    3   37   52   18 .364 .460 .484   154
Total                     696  112  208   26    7   33  121   82  108 .299 .387 .499   135

1956 Washington Senators: Catcher

He didn’t have a good ball club overall, but the production that manager Chuck Dressen received from his three catchers—Clint Courtney, Lou Berberet (another Santa Clara Bronco!), and Ed Fitzgerald, juggled largely though not exclusively on a left-right basis—was outstanding.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Clint Courtney   L   101  283   31   85   20    3    5   44   20   10 .300 .362 .445   113
Lou Berberet     L    95  207   25   54    6    3    4   27   46   33 .261 .402 .377   108
Ed FitzGerald    R    64  148   15   45    8    0    2   12   20   16 .304 .387 .399   108
Total                     638   71  184   34    6   11   83   86   59 .288 .396 .412   110

1956 Brooklyn Dodgers: Left field-second base

Here Dodger manager Walt Alston came up with a clever solution to deal with two issues simultaneously. In left field, he had Sandy Amoros, a good left-handed hitter but a guy who could use a platoon partner. At second base, he had an excellent switch-hitting incumbent in Jim Gilliam, but also an impressive rookie right-handed-hitting infielder in Charlie Neal, who deserved some playing time.

So, against left-handers, Alston started Neal at second base, and shifted the versatile Gilliam to left field in place of Amoros. Neal’s OPS+ of 92 was good for a middle infielder.

Alston had executed the same maneuver in 1955, only with Don Zimmer in Neal’s promising young infielder role. Zimmer did fine, but Alston got better offensive production from Amoros and Gilliam in ’56.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Sandy Amoros     L   114  292   53   76   11    8   16   58   59   51 .260 .385 .517   133
Charlie Neal     R    62  136   22   39    5    1    2   14   14   19 .287 .353 .382    92
Total                     428   75  115   16    9   18   72   73   70 .269 .376 .474   124

1956 Boston Red Sox: Left field-first base

Manager Pinky Higgins did some interesting things with this Boston roster. Obviously, Ted Williams wasn’t your garden-variety platoon player, but he was 37 and in need of periodic rest, and it made sense to give him his days off against left-handers as much as possible. The same was true of Mickey Vernon at first base, a longtime everyday star but now 38 years old.

Right-handed power-hitting Dick Gernert was a good partner for both. While Gernert certainly couldn’t play both left field and first base at the same time, it’s clear that he played one or the other against just about all lefties. Here we see Gernert’s overall stats pro-rated by his appearances in left field and at first base.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
Ted Williams     L   136  400   71  138   28    2   24   82  102   39 .345 .479 .605  172
Dick Gernert     R    50  176   30   51    6    0    9   39   32   33 .291 .399 .484  122
Total                     576  101  189   34    2   33  121  134   72 .328 .458 .568  161

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Mickey Vernon    L   119  403   67  125   28    4   15   84   57   40 .310 .403 .511   130
Dick Gernert     R    37  130   23   38    5    0    7   29   24   24 .291 .399 .484   122
Total                     533   90  163   33    4   22  113   81   64 .305 .402 .504   128

1956 Boston Red Sox: Second base

Higgins platooned at second base as well that year. Ted Lepcio’s line here is pro-rated to the 60 games he played at second, alternating with the veteran Billy Goodman. An OPS+ of 94 from the second base position was, then as now, quite productive.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Billy Goodman    L   105  399   61  117   22    8    2   38   40   22 .293 .356 .404    92
Ted Lepcio       R    60  205   25   53    7    0   11   37   22   56 .261 .335 .454    98
Total                     604   86  170   29    8   13   75   62   78 .282 .349 .421    94

1958 Cleveland Indians: First base

The ’58 Indians were a rather chaotic team, as GM Frantic Frankie Lane executed constant trades with little apparent plan. But amid the chronic roster shuffling, two strong platoons emerged. Vic Power was acquired in mid-June, and used in a multi-position supersub role; here we see how he hit when spelling the veteran Vernon at first base against left-handers.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
Mickey Vernon    L   119  355   49  104   22    3    8   55   44   56 .293 .372 .439  125
Vic Power        R    41  169   28   54   11    3    5   23    6    5 .317 .336 .504  130
Total                     524   77  158   33    6   13   78   50   61 .301 .362 .460  127

1958 Cleveland Indians: Catcher

Russ Nixon and Dick Brown were the same age and arrived in the majors at the same time, and they fit nicely together as the platoon duo that took over Cleveland’s catching responsibilities from longtime regular Jim Hegan.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Russ Nixon       L   113  376   42  113   17    4    9   46   13   38 .301 .322 .439   110
Dick Brown       R    68  173   20   41    5    0    7   20   14   27 .237 .304 .387    91
Total                     549   62  154   22    4   16   66   27   65 .281 .316 .423   105

1958 Detroit Tigers: Left field

Zernial was always a rather one-dimensional talent, but that one dimension was highly impressive: When he made contact, it was frightfully loud. In the twilight of his career, the Tigers paired Zernial with Charlie Maxwell in left field and received handsome production.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Charlie Maxwell  L   131  397   56  108   14    4   13   65   64   54 .272 .369 .426   113
Gus Zernial      R    66  124    8   40    7    1    5   23    6   25 .323 .351 .516   130
Total                     521   64  148   21    5   18   88   70   79 .284 .365 .447   117

1958 San Francisco Giants: Left field

The rookie Leon Wagner wasn’t in the majors for the full season, but when on board he was largely left-right platooned with the veteran slugger Hank Sauer. While this constituted first-rate power generation from the left field slot, the born-to-DH Daddy Wags and the 41-year-old Honker quite likely also contributed the ghastliest defense of any platoon in history.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Leon Wagner      L    74  221   31   70    9    0   13   35   18   34 .317 .371 .534   139
Hank Sauer       R    88  236   27   59    8    0   12   46   35   37 .250 .354 .436   110
Total                     457   58  129   17    0   25   81   53   71 .282 .362 .484   125

1959-60 Pittsburgh Pirates: First base

Speaking of ghastly defense … the colorful Rocky Nelson was never known as anything more than an average defensive first baseman, but that capability was plenty to qualify him as the defensive caddy for Dr. Strangeglove. Dick Stuart was mostly the regular, but Nelson hit so well in his supporting role that manager Danny Murtaugh was motivated to give Rocky the starts against the tougher right-handers.

1959:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Dick Stuart      R   118  397   64  118   15    2   27   78   42   86 .297 .362 .549   140
Rocky Nelson     L    98  175   31   51   11    0    6   32   23   19 .291 .379 .457   123
Total                     572   95  169   26    2   33  110   65  105 .295 .367 .521   135

1960:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Dick Stuart      R   122  438   48  114   17    5   23   83   39  107 .260 .317 .479   114
Rocky Nelson     L    93  200   34   60   11    1    7   35   24   15 .300 .382 .470   132
Total                     638   82  174   28    6   30  118   63  122 .273 .340 .476   120

1960 Pittsburgh Pirates: Catcher

Murtaugh deployed left-right platoons in both center field (Bill Virdon-Gino Cimoli) and catcher on his championship 1960 Pirate squad, and the backstop tandem of Smoky Burgess and Hal Smith delivered a lot of offense.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Smoky Burgess    L   110  337   33   99   15    2    7   39   35   13 .294 .356 .412   110
Hal Smith        R    77  258   37   76   18    2   11   45   22   48 .295 .351 .508   131
Total                     595   70  175   33    4   18   84   57   61 .294 .354 .454   120

1960 St. Louis Cardinals: Left field

Following his magnificent superstar peak, Stan Musial contributed a long twilight phase as a highly productive role player. While the veteran obviously wasn’t strictly a left-right platoon player, it made sense for the Cardinals to give him the frequent rest he needed when facing a southpaw, and in 1960 Stan the Man accumulated just 85 at-bats against lefties. Pairing him that year with one of the best right-handed-hitting platoon players of the era, Bob Nieman, the Cards got very solid offensive production from left field.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Stan Musial      L   116  331   49   91   17    1   17   63   41   34 .275 .354 .486   120
Bob Nieman       R    81  188   19   54   13    5    4   31   24   31 .287 .372 .473   122
Total                     519   68  145   30    6   21   94   65   65 .279 .361 .482   121

1960-61-62 Cincinnati Reds: Left field

This arrangement was somewhat similar to the Giants’ Irvin-Rhodes pairing of the 1950s: It wasn’t a straightforward left-right arrangement, as Wally Post got some starts against right-handers when Jerry Lynch, whose reputation rivaled only that of Burgess as deadly effective pinch-hitter, was held back by Fred Hutchinson for just the right late-inning opportunity. Few tandems in history have been more robust.

1960:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Wally Post       R    77  249   36   70   14    0   17   38   28   51 .281 .350 .542   139
Jerry Lynch      L   102  159   23   46    8    2    6   27   16   25 .289 .356 .478   125
Total                     408   59  116   22    2   23   65   44   76 .284 .352 .517   134

1961:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Wally Post       R    99  282   44   83   16    3   20   57   22   61 .294 .346 .585   141
Jerry Lynch      L    96  181   33   57   13    2   13   50   27   25 .315 .407 .624   168
Total                     463   77  140   29    5   33  107   49   86 .302 .373 .600   153

1962:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Wally Post       R   109  285   43   75   10    3   17   62   32   67 .263 .341 .498   120
Jerry Lynch      L   114  288   41   81   15    4   12   57   24   38 .281 .335 .486   115
Total                     573   84  156   25    7   29  119   56  105 .272 .338 .492   118

1961 New York Yankees: Catcher

Another one that wasn’t a pure left-right deal, but the combination of Elston Howard and Johnny Blanchard, as deployed behind the plate by rookie manager Ralph Houk in that storied Yankee season, was just so famously and amazingly successful that we can’t leave it out. The lines here are the numbers each compiled while in the lineup at catcher.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Elston Howard    R   111  395   57  139   15    4   17   68   27   55 .352 .395 .539   153
Johnny Blanchard L    48  170   23   46    6    1   11   27   19   22 .271 .346 .512   132
Total                     565   80  185   21    5   28   95   46   77 .327 .381 .531   147

1961 Los Angeles Dodgers: Outfield

The amazing case of the six-man outfield. With four lefties and two righties, Walt Alston had to start at least one left-handed-hitter in his outfield even against southpaws, but much of his juggling was on a left-right basis.

For quantity of sheer quality, for complementary balance of skills, and for veteran-youngster diversity, there never has been another outfield quite like this logjam of Wally Moon, Willie Davis, Frank Howard, Duke Snider, Tommy Davis and Ron Fairly. The lines for Tommy Davis and Fairly here are just what they hit when playing the outfield; Davis also spent quite a bit of time at third base, and Fairly at first base.

Amazingly, at the outset of that season the Dodgers’ roster included yet a seventh good outfielder, Don Demeter, who conveniently enough was a right-handed hitter. But the surplus of talent was just too much, and in early May of ’61 the Dodgers traded Demeter for pitching help.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Wally Moon       L   134  463   79  152   25    3   17   88   89   79 .328 .434 .505   140
Willie Davis     L   128  339   56   86   19    6   12   45   27   46 .254 .316 .451    94
Frank Howard     R    92  267   36   79   10    2   15   45   21   50 .296 .347 .517   118
Duke Snider      L    85  233   35   69    8    3   16   56   29   43 .296 .375 .562   136
Tommy Davis      R    86  245   32   73    4    2    9   33   18   21 .298 .330 .441    96
Ron Fairly       L    71  164   28   52    9    2    7   30   27   14 .317 .420 .524   141
Total/3                   570   89  170   25    6   25   99   70   84 .299 .381 .497   123

1960-61 San Francisco Giants: First base

While the Giants’ decision to platoon their prodigious young slugger Willie McCovey through these seasons was quite foolish, it can’t be denied that the platoons the team derived with McCovey were bodacious. The lines we see here are those produced by McCovey and Orlando Cepeda while in the lineup at first base.

1960:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Willie McCovey   L    67  227   33   55   15    2   12   41   42   44 .242 .358 .485   135
Orlando Cepeda   R    63  231   33   71   13    1    7   27   22   40 .307 .381 .463   137
Total                     458   66  126   28    3   19   68   64   84 .275 .370 .474   136

1961:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Willie McCovey   L    83  307   56   85   12    3   16   47   35   54 .277 .356 .492   127
Orlando Cepeda   R    78  279   60   97   10    2   26   74   22   46 .348 .405 .677   186
Total                     586  116  182   22    5   42  121   57  100 .311 .381 .580   160

1962 San Francisco Giants: Left field

In 1962, the Giants moved McCovey to the outfield, and partnered him with the veteran Harvey Kuenn in a manner very reminiscent of the Irvin-Rhodes arrangement. This is what Kuenn and McCovey hit while playing the outfield.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Harvey Kuenn     R   106  374   61  117   19    3    7   57   33   25 .313 .366 .436   117
Willie McCovey   L    55  172   34   53    6    1   15   42   25   26 .308 .394 .616   170
Total                     546   95  170   25    4   22   99   58   51 .311 .376 .493   139

1962 Los Angeles Angels: First base

The career of huge, strong Steve Bilko was among the more interesting in baseball history, though it was also among the more disappointing. Bilko wasn’t just a star, he was a superstar all through the minor leagues, most prominently at the Triple-A level. But in repeated opportunities in the majors, Bilko just couldn’t get his stroke going.

Finally, with the expansion Angels in 1961-62, he found big league success. Deployed by manager Bill Rigney as a platoon first baseman, Bilko hit very well.

His 1962 platoon partner, Lee Thomas, played the outfield against left-handers. Thomas’ line here is what he compiled at first base.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Lee Thomas       L    83  300   50   94   12    1   17   61   28   38 .313 .378 .530   145
Steve Bilko      R    64  164   26   47    9    1    8   38   25   35 .287 .374 .500   137
Total                     464   76  141   21    2   25   99   53   73 .304 .377 .519   142

1962 Philadelphia Phillies: Center field

Through his long managerial career, Gene Mauch would be among the game’s most dedicated platooners. In his 1960-68 stint with the Phillies, Mauch pursued the practice in a complex Stengelian multi-position manner, and in the outfield that yielded some highly impressive results. Don Demeter also played a lot of third base and first base, but the lines here are what he compiled while playing in center field, largely against left-handed pitching.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Tony Gonzalez    L   118  437   76  132   16    4   20   63   40   82 .302 .371 .494   134
Don Demeter      R    42  133   23   41    6    1    8   31   12   18 .308 .358 .549   143
Total                     570   99  173   22    5   28   94   52  100 .304 .368 .507   136

1963-64-65 Philadelphia Phillies: Left field

In 1963 Tony Gonzalez played every day, but slid over to left field against southpaws in place of the heavy-hitting but defensively challenged Wes Covington, while Demeter played center.

1963:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Wes Covington    L   119  353   46  107   24    1   17   64   26   56 .303 .354 .521   150
Don Demeter      R    82  247   31   69   14    2    9   39   15   39 .279 .327 .462   126
Total                     600   77  176   38    3   26  103   41   95 .293 .343 .497   141

1964:

In 1964 and ’65, Mauch used Covington and the heavy-hitting youngster Alex Johnson as a more-or-less straightforward left-right platoon.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Wes Covington    L   129  339   37   95   18    0   13   58   38   50 .280 .355 .448   126
Alex Johnson     R    43  109   18   33    7    1    4   18    6   26 .303 .345 .495   135
Total                     448   55  128   25    1   17   76   44   76 .286 .353 .460   128

1965:

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Wes Covington    L   101  235   27   58   10    1   15   45   26   47 .247 .322 .489   127
Alex Johnson     R    97  262   27   77    9    3    8   28   15   60 .294 .337 .443   120
Total                     497   54  135   19    4   23   73   41  107 .272 .330 .465   123

1963 Cleveland Indians: First base

Neither the young Fred Whitfield nor the veteran Joe Adcock was much good at anything except hitting for power, but hitting for power is a pretty useful talent. Indians manager Birdie Tebbetts fit the two sluggers into a productive platoon.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Fred Whitfield   L   109  346   44   87   17    3   21   54   24   61 .251 .302 .500   122
Joe Adcock       R    97  283   28   71    7    1   13   49   30   53 .251 .320 .420   107
Total                     629   72  158   24    4   34  103   54  114 .251 .311 .464   116

1965 Cleveland Indians: First base

Here Whitfield had almost, but not quite, hit his way into a fully regular role. This time Tebbetts started the versatile, multi-talented Chuck Hinton against most of the lefties. Hinton, one of the best supersubs of all time, also played extensively in the outfield and at second base in ’65.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Fred Whitfield   L   132  468   49  137   23    1   26   90   16   42 .293 .316 .513   131
Chuck Hinton     R    39  131   20   34    5    2    6   18   16   13 .260 .338 .466   126
Total                     599   69  171   28    3   32  108   32   55 .285 .321 .503   130

1965 Cincinnati Reds: Catcher

The ’65 Reds were a historically great-hitting unit, with a team OPS+ of 122. Manager Dick Sisler used left-right platoons at two positions. His first base combination of veteran Gordy Coleman and rookie Tony Perez was quite good, and his catcher pairing of Johnny Edwards and Don Pavletich was tremendous.

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Johnny Edwards   L   114  371   47   99   22    2   17   51   50   45 .267 .353 .474   125
Don Pavletich    R    68  191   25   61   11    1    8   32   23   27 .319 .394 .513   147
Total                     562   72  160   33    3   25   83   73   72 .285 .368 .488   133

1965 Cincinnati Reds: First base

Player           B     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Gordy Coleman    L   108  325   39   98   19    0   14   57   24   38 .302 .348 .489   127
Tony Perez       R   104  281   40   73   14    4   12   47   21   67 .260 .315 .466   111
Total                     606   79  171   33    4   26  104   45  105 .282 .334 .479   120

Next time

We complete the 1960s, and roll on into the ’70s, and we see more platooning than ever before.

24-karat diamond-writing gem bonus

The article I recently presented—”wrote” would be inaccurate—highlighting some nuggets of the greatest baseball writing of all time resulted in warmly positive e-mail response from you, my beloved readers. So how about a little something today from that most marvelous of baseball writers, on the ever-fascinating subject of Leo Durocher:

Combative, quick-witted and knowledgeable, he was truly the practically peerless leader on the field, a superior gambler with a nice balance of calculation and recklessness. Like any good gambler—horse player, card expert or pool shark—he has the gift of absolute concentration. Half an hour after a long double-header he can recite every detail of the eighteen innings, play by play. An hour or so later, he has forgotten it all.

As a director of tactical operations, then, he was as good a manager can be. As a leader of men—that’s something else again.

He is ambitious, brassily assertive and impatient. Though he can be gracious when he chooses, instinctive regard for others is not ingrained in him. Some players responded to his goading, played better for him than they would for another man. Others found him impossible to live with, and these weren’t necessarily congenital sulkers.

Durocher did play favorites, he did indulge personal dislikes, he was swayed by enthusiasm and prejudice, he could be outrageously unreasonable. Some of the Giants will rejoice in his departure and perhaps flourish under more temperate leadership. Some will miss him.

In his first couple of seasons as manager in New York, the personnel of the Giants changed rapidly. Leo wanted, he said, “my kind of ball club.” What that appeared to mean was that he wanted the team staffed with men just like himself. Chances are there aren’t nine major league ball players just like Durocher, let alone twenty-five. This is not an unmixed evil.

However, he did get enough of “his kind” to win two pennants and a World Series. That’s got to be a major item in any accounting of his stewardship.

- Red Smith, Sept. 26, 1955

References & Resources
Red Smith, “All Guys Finish at Last,” Red Smith on Baseball, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000, pp. 193-194.

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